ilani Casino Resort Expansion Done, Ready for Tribe’s Next Chapter

Posted on: February 14, 2024, 11:33h. 

Last updated on: February 14, 2024, 12:16h.

The ilani Casino Resort has completed and opened its 10,000 square feet of additional event space at the property’s Meeting & Entertainment Center.

ilani Casino Resort Washington tribe
A cake designed to resemble the ilani Casino Resort helps celebrate the resort’s meeting space expansion on Feb. 12, 2024. The tribal casino, owned by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in Washington, is amid big changes. (Image: The Reflector)

Owned by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in Washington, the Tribe last year announced it would be expanding its meeting space from approximately 30,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. The project includes updated technology capabilities and the installation of customizable dividers to allow for the configuration of various events.

The meeting space is across the hall from the Cowlitz Ballroom, a more than 22,000-square-foot facility that regularly hosts concerts and other live entertainment.

ilani General Manager Kara Fox-LaRose says additional expansion projects are forthcoming. In the coming years, the Tribe plans to bring a full-service spa to the destination and expand the lobby with a café. A cultural center where guests can learn about the Tribe’s history is also being deliberated.

“We’ve conducted a lot of market evaluations, as well as monitoring our own business to make sure we didn’t overbuild or underbuild,” Fox-LaRose told The Reflector. “If we ever get to a place where we would like to expand on other things, every building is built to expand.”

Casino Resort Future

Big changes have come recently to the ilani Casino Resort. The casino opened its 14-story, 300-room hotel last spring. The hotel has an indoor pool and a 24/7 fitness center.

The ilani casino commenced operations in 2017. The 110,000-square-foot gaming space has nearly 3,000 slot machines and 75 table games. The casino opened its ilani Sportsbook in December 2022. Kambi Group, a business-to-business sportsbook provider, powers the book’s odds and operations.

While the next change won’t ideally impact guests or be noticed, the Cowlitz Tribe is amid a major operational pivot. Last April, the Tribe announced it wouldn’t renew its longtime partnership with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut.

The Mohegan Tribe helped finance the Cowlitz’s casino development and has since managed the property on the Tribe’s behalf. Mohegan was paid interest on its loan that built the casino and has received 24% of the ilani Casino’s gross revenues during the past seven years.

The Cowlitz’s contract with Mohegan expires in July. The Tribe plans to separate from Mohegan and run the property on its own.

Mohegan Praise

During the Meeting & Entertainment Center’s expansion opening ceremony, Cowlitz officials thanked Mohegan for the partnership.

We didn’t have the money to do this. Mohegan took a chance on us and they funded us. We couldn’t have started this without Mohegan,” said Cowlitz Indian Tribe Chairwoman Patty Kinswa-Gaiser.

The tribe awarded Mohegan Tribal Council Ambassador Mark Brown a “Blanket of Knowledge.” The wool blanket symbolizes warmth and friendship and is bestowed on Tribal partners who have been kind and demonstrated honor to the Tribe.

“We met a group of people very much like us,” Brown said in accepting the blanket gift. “They were fighting for their Tribe.”

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe gained federal recognition in 2000. The Tribe today counts about 4,100 Tribal members.